We still don’t have a stove. My cooking innovations have taken a precarious turn as apparently I’ve decided to survive on nothing but sweet potatoes smothered in black beans, cheese and hot sauce. Oh, and wine. And coffee-flavored frozen yogurt. And spoonfuls of green olives. But mostly, sweet potatoes smothered in black beans, cheese and hot sauce. But for the lack of greenery, it’s a perfect meal – complex carbs, protein, dairy. Hazah!
Today would normally be considered a bad day, the kind of day my old boss used to refer to as dagger-in-the-forehead-headache days, but it will be redeemed soon enough because I have two cd’s from Pearl Jam’s “Live at the Gorge” in my car and very little else in this world makes me feel comforted and less alone than the voice of Eddie Vedder. Well, very little else of such an intanglible nature…you know what I mean. Let’s not analyze this in light of S., friendship or family. You KNOW what I mean.
S. and I have, oh, let’s call it a habit, shall we, instead of compulsion or fetish or problem, a habit of purchasing c.d.’s on a whim. Oh, I’ve been to the homes of my friends and family, and I recognize the latest trend, the trend to download all of one’s music onto one’s ipod and put the cd’s away for good, placing the ipod on some nicely disguised docking station so that music dances through the home invisibly – and let me tell you this – my photos from three Christmases ago still haven’t been put in albums. I don’t think we will be tackling this c.d. problem any time soon. Yep, S. and I still buy c.d.’s and listen to them on a c.d. player, and our collection is currently threatening to go to war with our books, hoping to take over the coffee table. Anyway, a few months ago S. came home with the above mentioned collection, justifying the purchase like we always do by saying he read about it in the New York Times, or something like that, and it is supposed to just be awesome.
Now, we have most (if not all) of Pearl Jam’s c.d.’s, so it wasn’t the redundancy of his purchase so much as the artists themselves that made me laugh, just a bit.
“Pearl Jam?” I said. “Pearl Jam? What, are we back in 1995?”
“Pearl Jam,” S. replied, seriously, “Is a really good band.”
“Yes, yes – I remember. Just let me grab a bottle of Boone’s farm wine and we’ll go hijack a jeep and go four-wheeling through the woods together.”
“What are you talking about?” S. asked, and that is when I realized – his experiences with Pearl Jam, and my experiences with Pearl Jam, are somewhat disparate. See – I grew up in a small town, in a fairly rural community. For instance, my friends and I listened to Eddie Vedder and his band while driving to some bonfire on some beach somewhere, considering ourselves lucky for scoring the cheap bottles of wine tucked between the seats of K.’s jeep. S. listened to Pearl Jam while discussing the ramifications of post-colonialism at the latest coffee shop in Detroit with other like-minded individuals. I’m a little bit country, he’s a little bit suburb.
For a long time, Pearl Jam has represented to me a specific time period in my life – the summer after my senior year of high school when my parents loosened the reigns on me a bit. For so much of my adolescence both parents kept a vice-like grip on me. If I was ever even five minutes late for curfew my dad would climb into his suburban, sometimes with our crazy dog Toby at his side, and come find me. On many occasions I was grounded for transgressions I never committed and to this day they still believe I lost my virginity to my boyfriend JK, even though it didn’t happen for years afterward. I don’t mean to sound martyrish or persecuted – I know they were simply trying to raise a college-bound daughter in an area where young marriages and even younger pregnancies occurred with some frequency, and I had a great growing-up. These are the facts, to help you contextualize.
But the summer after my senior year of high school, my parents suddenly and freakisly lightened up. Whether it was my upcoming departure for college, greater demands at their jobs, increased family troubles, I don’t know – what I do know is I was suddenly allowed out, late at night, with my friends and with my boyfriend.
I guess in many ways it was that kind of quintessential summer I’ll return to again and again as a writer – the kind of perfect summer everyone should have the chance to experience once. I worked during the day as a waitress at a small sandwich shop at the marina, and at night I went off with my boyfriend and random collections of friends. Some of my friends were over eighteen and had their own apartments, and sometimes we would go to them, but most of the time I remember driving around our beach-based town, stopping at a bonfire party here, night-time swimming there. That summer tastes like the tinge of literal strawberry wine at the back of the throat – it smells like suntan lotion, the faintest whisper of fishy-scented Lake Huron, and woodsmoke – it is perpetually warm and dark and the stars are always out, and the soundtrack -well, the soundtrack was provided by Pearl Jam. I was dating a boy who truly accepted Eddie Vedder as the voice of a generation, and that is why we listened to so much Pearl Jam. Back then I wasn’t a passionate Pearl Jam fan, but I loved the sound of Vedder’s voice ripping through the open night, loved the way he moved us through the summer. (For your information, I just erased two paragraphs juxtaposting the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Paris HIlton – maybe you can do something with the idea?)
When S. put the first c.d. of the collection in and Vedder’s voice took over our apartment I fell in love with Pearl Jam all over again. I think perhaps what I like best about the collection isn’t how it takes me back to one particular summer, but how it takes both me and S. back to times in our lives before one another. We have hundreds of musicians and bands we discovered together, and equally as many shared experiences with concerts, festivals and evenings spent at home, analyzing new discoveries. But for both of us, Pearl Jam takes us back to a time before one another, a time before the beginning of college degrees and careers, a time when we both lived at home, with our parents, and had dreams that didn’t involve one another. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t choose for a moment a life without S., but I think there is something nice about having music in the house that reminds you once upon a time you were just a girl, just a boy – swimming beneath the Milky Way or laughing with your friends or flirting with some cute girl pouring your coffee, at once – like Vedder so wonderfully expresses in his music- enraged by the world around you but capable of seeing its redeeming, inherent moments of grace.
At least one cd from this collection of music hasn’t left my car since S. brought it home and I don’t forsee a time when I will be without it. I don’t listen to it every day, or even every week, but at theend of a long work day it washes away the frustrations and irritations that accumulate and reminds me, on my drive home, of summer and sand and bad wine and friends and love and the freedom I found the summer my parents finally let me go.